Coronavirus curfew creates water shortage for Burkina Faso's poorest

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OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Nowadays Rahinatou Diasso scolds her children when they wash with too much water. It has become a precious resource since Burkina Faso’s coronavirus curfew stopped those in poor areas from accessing communal fountains that only flow at night in the dry season.

As a result, families like Diasso’s ration water and jostle in line to fill empty jerry-cans from privately-owned water towers during the day even as the Burkinabe authorities urge them to take extra precautions and avoid crowds to curb the fastest rate of coronavirus infection in West Africa.

“They say we must wash our hands, keep clean, and wash our clothes to prevent us catching the disease. We’d really like to, but if there’s no water it’s really complicated,” said the 37-year-old mother-of-three at her home in the outskirts of the capital Ouagadougou, where houses are not connected to the power or water grid.

The epidemic has so far infected over 440 people in Burkina Faso, including six government ministers, and killed 24. The country, one of the region’s poorest, was already grappling with a deadly insurgency before the coronavirus struck, with 840,000 people displaced in the last 16 months by conflict and drought.

Burkina confirmed its first coronavirus case in early March just as it was entering the sweltering dry season when water supplies can be limited. In Diasso’s neighbourhood, this meant communal fountains only flowed after dark.

“We can’t not drink, but for other needs we’re cutting water use. Before, we used to wash and do what we wanted with the water,” she said. “The curfew is a real problem.”

Each morning, Diasso straps her baby daughter to her back with a traditional patterned cloth and pushes a bike to the neighbourhood water tower, where hundreds queue to fill up their 20-litre jerry-cans and must pay a fee to do so.

Low water pressure and over-population are part of the problem, said the head of the local water authority, Irene Nikiema, adding that she had alerted her superiors.

“Do you think we’re happy that people turn on the tap and no water flows?,” she told Reuters. “Do you think we like to see great numbers of people at the boreholes? But it’s beyond our control.”

Reporting by Vincent Bado; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Alexandra Hudson